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Why most of us should diversify-- Warren Buffett
Old 02-27-2008, 09:15 AM   #1
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Why most of us should diversify-- Warren Buffett

I was in the "concentration" camp for years, but now I realize when you start to draw down on your investments they better be diversified:

A question for Buffett for a recent interview:
With the popularity of "Fortune's Formula" and the Kelly Criterion, there seems to be a lot of debate in the value community regarding diversification vs. concentration. I know where you side in that discussion, but was curious if you could tell us more about your process for position sizing or averaging down.

Buffett's answer:

I have 2 views on diversification. If you are a professional and have confidence, then I would advocate lots of concentration. For everyone else, if itís not your game, participate in total diversification. The economy will do fine over time. Make sure you donít buy at the wrong price or the wrong time. Thatís what most people should do, buy a cheap index fund and slowly dollar cost average into it. If you try to be just a little bit smart, spending an hour a week investing, youíre liable to be really dumb.

If itís your game, diversification doesnít make sense. Itís crazy to put money into your 20th choice rather than your 1st choice. ďLebron JamesĒ analogy. If you have Lebron James on your team, donít take him out of the game just to make room for someone else. If you have a harem of 40 women, you never really get to know any of them well.

Charlie and I operated mostly with 5 positions. If I were running 50, 100, 200 million, I would have 80% in 5 positions, with 25% for the largest. In 1964 I found a position I was willing to go heavier into, up to 40%. I told investors they could pull their money out. None did. The position was American Express after the Salad Oil Scandal. In 1951 I put the bulk of my net worth into GEICO. Later in 1998, LTCM was in trouble. With the spread between the on-the-run versus off-the-run 30 year Treasury bonds, I would have been willing to put 75% of my portfolio into it. There were various times I would have gone up to 75%, even in the past few years. If itís your game and you really know your business, you can load up.

Over the past 50-60 years, Charlie and I have never permanently lost more than 2% of our personal worth on a position. Weíve suffered quotational loss, 50% movements. Thatís why you should never borrow money. We donít want to get into situations where anyone can pull the rug out from under our feet.

In stocks, itís the only place where when things go on sale, people get unhappy. If I like a business, then it makes sense to buy more at 20 than at 30. If McDonalds reduces the price of hamburgers, I think itís great.
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:11 PM   #2
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Thatís what most people should do, buy a cheap index fund and slowly dollar cost average into it.
If Buffett means what I think he means, then he is saying to DCA into a fund instead of investing the same money into it as a lump sum. That goes against what some people have suggested on the board, so I think it is interesting.

I still like the idea of DCA'ing into equity index funds because it makes sense to me. I haven't been persuaded otherwise (at least not yet).

Of course, maybe that isn't what Buffett meant. One would think that plain English would be easy enough to interpret. Also, I wonder what he means by slowly. Over a year?
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:16 PM   #3
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If Buffett means what I think he means, then he is saying to DCA into a fund instead of investing the same money into it as a lump sum. That goes against what some people have suggested on the board, so I think it is interesting.

I still like the idea of DCA'ing into equity index funds because it makes sense to me. I haven't been persuaded otherwise (at least not yet).

Of course, maybe that isn't what Buffett meant. One would think that plain English would be easy enough to interpret. Also, I wonder what he means by slowly. Over a year?
I think "most" people don't have an alternative to DCA - they invest in bits and pieces as they earn it. I suspect that is what WB is referring to.
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:29 PM   #4
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Here is the link to the entire Buffett interview if yall are interested. Pretty good stuff..........

http://undergroundvalue.blogspot.com/2008/02/notes-from-buff...
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:35 PM   #5
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If Buffett means what I think he means, then he is saying to DCA into a fund instead of investing the same money into it as a lump sum. That goes against what some people have suggested on the board, so I think it is interesting.

I still like the idea of DCA'ing into equity index funds because it makes sense to me. I haven't been persuaded otherwise (at least not yet).

Of course, maybe that isn't what Buffett meant. One would think that plain English would be easy enough to interpret. Also, I wonder what he means by slowly. Over a year?
That is what he meant, he spells it right out. Don't buy at the wrong place or the wrong time. Buy a cheap index fund and slowly DCA into.

The economy will do fine over time. Make sure you donít buy at the wrong price or the wrong time. Thatís what most people should do, buy a cheap index fund and slowly dollar cost average into it. If you try to be just a little bit smart, spending an hour a week investing, youíre liable to be really dumb.

I cannot understand the negative take on diversification-over- time from some posters here. Why would diversification over asset classes and securities be important, but not diversification over time?

As to how long, he doesn't say. But for me, one year would not be long enough. What if your year ran from March 1999 to March 2000? Your results almost 10 years later would still not look very good.

Ha
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Old 02-27-2008, 12:49 PM   #6
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Your understanding of risk and of probability continue to amaze Mr Ha.
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Old 02-27-2008, 01:54 PM   #7
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I cannot understand the negative take on diversification-over- time from some posters here. Why would diversification over asset classes and securities be important, but not diversification over time?
Because in many cases they are mutually exclusive.

If I get a lump sum payment from an inheritance, business sale, house sale, whatever, suddenly I am very heavy in cash. My choice is to immediately try to get to whatever asset distribution I want to have, which means lump sum buying, or DCA'ing my purchases, which means it takes much longer to get to the asset mix I want.

My own preference is to get to the asset mix I want as quickly as possible. If I have an asset distribution that I think is ideal to manage risk while optomizing return, I want to get to that point right away rather than drag along as some less than ideal mix.

This is very much along the strategy of using DCA with your monthly investments. Rather than build up cash to buy in bulk, which will leave you heavy in cash until then, you continually purchase and keep your asset mix roughly in balance.
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Old 02-27-2008, 02:05 PM   #8
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Because in many cases they are mutually exclusive.

If I get a lump sum payment from an inheritance, business sale, house sale, whatever, suddenly I am very heavy in cash. My choice is to immediately try to get to whatever asset distribution I want to have, which means lump sum buying, or DCA'ing my purchases, which means it takes much longer to get to the asset mix I want.

My own preference is to get to the asset mix I want as quickly as possible. If I have an asset distribution that I think is ideal to manage risk while optomizing return, I want to get to that point right away rather than drag along as some less than ideal mix.

This is very much along the strategy of using DCA with your monthly investments. Rather than build up cash to buy in bulk, which will leave you heavy in cash until then, you continually purchase and keep your asset mix roughly in balance.
This is an interesting point. I guess if you consider cash as asset like any other, which needs to be in proper balance to avoid large losses due to over concentration in one asset class, then your approach is best.

I don't look at cash that way. Although over time, too much cash is indeed a drag on ones's reurns, it can't hurt you much over shorter time periods. For me, the avoidance of truly horrible timing decisions trump the need to keep to a theoretically derived asset allocation.

Also, I should say that I am after absolute returns. I really don't care if during the time that I am heavy in cash I should lag some benchmark or other. My only benchmark is the need to fund my retirement.

Ha
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:31 PM   #9
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I was in the "concentration" camp for years, but now I realize when you start to draw down on your investments they better be diversified:
Well, if I read five newspapers and a dozen financial reports a day I'd probably be a better investor too. I'd be a miserable human being but I'd be much more informed.

I think Buffett's advice boils down to "Kids, I'm a hardwired & trained professional-- don't try this at home." He also greatly overlooks the potential of his connections forged through of nearly five decades of publicity & shareholder's meetings, especially the last few years with CNBC. I doubt Walter Schloss' or Dick Ruane's phones ring anywhere near as much.

Having said that, I think diversification only does two things: reduce volatility and improve sleep. Its purpose is the same whether you're retired or working, and it's all a function of where your steady cash flow is coming from-- a paycheck, a pension, a cash stash, or some other dividend stream. If you don't have any of those providing the spending money then, yeah, diversification is probably a good idea.

If I was on my own and keeping my expenses reasonably close to my govt pension then I'd be greatly tempted to hold Berkshire as the majority of my portfolio-- at least 50%.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:44 PM   #10
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Why would diversification over asset classes and securities be important, but not diversification over time?
Because the data says that (providing things arent obviously ridiculously overpriced like 1999) going all-in is your best bet. Since the vast majority of market days are up days, the longer you take to DCA in, the more you're going to miss out.

Its easy to cherry pick the horrible time periods and use those as a watch word.

On the other hand, I'm a close follower of being fully invested but diversifying those investments into out-of-favor segments as they become available. Cant lose that bargain shopper thing...
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:56 PM   #11
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I'd have to agree with RB on this one. If you believe your AA is the most important factor in determining your return then lump summing into that makes the most sense. Sure your timing may be bad for one or more assets but unlikely it would be for all. But again as others have pointed out this (like your AA) is a "how are YOU going to sleep at night" decision.

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Old 02-28-2008, 02:07 PM   #12
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Nothing new here. Buffett's answer is entirely consistant with what he's been saying for (at least) the past 15 years: if you know what you're doing, a focused portfolio of stocks is great, but if you're a "know-nothing investor", you should stick to indexing. See his Chairman's Letter - 1993.

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I was in the "concentration" camp for years, but now I realize when you start to draw down on your investments they better be diversified
You may or may not be correct, but there is nothing in your Buffett quotation that leads to that conclusion.
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Old 02-28-2008, 02:53 PM   #13
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You may or may not be correct, but there is nothing in your Buffett quotation that leads to that conclusion.
No, nothing in that quote.......thanks for pointing that out so nobody gets confused.

Here's what I'm talking about. When I was accumulating, I never thought volatility equaled risk. Heck, more volatility usually meant I could pick up more shares of whatever I was looking at for a better price, so I actually liked the volatility.

Now I'm coming around to the fact that volatility does in fact = risk when you have to draw down the portfolio, and I'm also getting older and I'm just not as brave. I actually never really thought about the mechanics of drawing down the portfolio at all when I was saving like crazy.


Quote:
nothing new here


Well, I though this info was interesting, and pretty "new" and timely:

What we are seeing is a huge repricing and evaluation of risk, correcting for problems of the past. I donít know of good credit propositions that are going unfulfilled. Thereís lots of cheap credit for sensible deals, which I donít define as anything that happened over the last 12, 18 months. A lot of things that didnít make sense are being washed out of the system. It is painful for bad decisions. Comparatively, this is not a credit crunch. In 1982 the prime rate was 22% and money was very expensive. In the late 60ís, we made a sound deal there wasnít any money to be had. Thatís not the case now. The Fed has opened the window, and rates are down. It doesnít mean there wonít be a major recession.
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Old 02-29-2008, 08:11 AM   #14
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for anyone interested, Warren Buffet will be on CNBC's morning show Sqwack Box on MOnday answering viewer questions for 3 hours. you can email a question through the website
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Old 02-29-2008, 09:20 AM   #15
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Warren Buffet will be on CNBC's morning show Sqwack Box on MOnday answering viewer questions for 3 hours. you can email a question through the website
That's also new and interesting. Over the last year or so Buffett has been aggressivly promoting his business and his views on CNBC much more than usual. I think it's to help get the point out to owners of businesses the message that he should be the one to call when you want to sell your (large) business and keep it in tact for the sake of employees and for legacy reasons.

Plus, I think he likes hanging out with Becky Quick........
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Old 02-29-2008, 01:10 PM   #16
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Warren Buffet will be on CNBC's morning show Sqwack Box on MOnday answering viewer questions for 3 hours
Personally I don't bother watching Warren Buffett, since the questions he's asked and the answers he gives are pretty much always the same. That's not to suggest that the questions or answers are banal, but once is sufficient. Just Google "Warren Buffett video" and you can easily access several extended Q & A sessions at your leisure.

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Over the last year or so Buffett has been aggressivly promoting his business and his views on CNBC much more than usual. I think it's to help get the point out to owners of businesses the message that he should be the one to call when you want to sell your (large) business and keep it in tact for the sake of employees and for legacy reasons. Plus, I think he likes hanging out with Becky Quick.
I agree, on both counts!
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Old 02-29-2008, 04:50 PM   #17
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That's also new and interesting. Over the last year or so Buffett has been aggressivly promoting his business and his views on CNBC much more than usual. I think it's to help get the point out to owners of businesses the message that he should be the one to call when you want to sell your (large) business and keep it in tact for the sake of employees and for legacy reasons.

Plus, I think he likes hanging out with Becky Quick........

except for Geico i don't think i ever buy anything from any of his companies. not really sure why he buys all these companies and doesn't really integrate them or do anything else except let them run as separate companies. you can build a mall with retail stores that buffet owns.

OT but there was an internet rumor that maria bartiromo cheated on her husband with some CEO she was interviewing
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Old 02-29-2008, 06:58 PM   #18
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Over the last year or so Buffett has been aggressivly promoting his business and his views on CNBC much more than usual.
I think he feels like the business is finally going to work out OK so he's ready to take a victory lap or two.

Or else someone pulled him aside-- perhaps one of the Gates-- and said "Hey, Warren, you need to buff up your image so that people stop worrying about this succession problem. Now that you and Suzie don't have that living-apart problem and since you've married Astrid, you should get out more into the public eye so that they can't claim you're suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. Get one of these young media babes to start hanging around you and calling you a Superman, gushing about how you can last all night on the executive jet... analyzing financial reports."
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Old 02-29-2008, 11:48 PM   #19
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I can't remember where on this board it was stated, but it was a quote that went along the lines of, missing the top x number of up market days and you will miss out on the majority of the upswings that will make your portfolio grow.
I have also seen statistics on yty growth of mutual funds versus investors actual growth rates. The latter is less than the former due to investors buying and selling at the wrong times.

So my leaning is to get fully invested (lump sum) if I am moving money around in my portfolio. Of course I DCA'ed when I was w*rking with monthly contributions to my 401K and taxable accounts. but it was more of a 'forced DCA' since i was paid on a semi-monthly basis.

If I received an inheritance, I would most probably lump sum invest it to keep my AA in line.
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Old 03-01-2008, 06:31 AM   #20
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is there a mathematical proof?

th largest up days of the last 10 years have taken place 2000 - 2002 and in the last 6 months
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